By Lindene Cleary
Shabul came to Singapore in 2009 to work for a marine company. During those five years he has dedicated himself to working hard to support himself and his family back home in Bangladesh. He’s never been injured, and has taken only a handful of days off for illness. Earlier this month, he took a nasty fall at the shipyard, injuring his lower back. Within hours, still reeling in pain from his injury, Shabul found himself homeless, jobless, and completely lost.
After five years of loyalty to a company, most of us might expect some level of assistance to get through a difficult situation such as a workplace injury. Even if financial support wasn’t guaranteed, perhaps a ride to the hospital or a friendly enquiry as to how you’re getting on might be appreciated. Shabul’s experience was quite the opposite. He was left to travel to the hospital alone and to pay for the visit himself, with so-far empty assurances that he would be reimbursed afterwards. Following treatment at the hospital, Shabul returned to his employer with a five-day medical certificate. According to Shabul, the employer immediately asked him to sign a letter stating that he agreed to be sent back to Bangladesh. Understandably, Shabul refused. At that point, the stability of his previous five years instantly vanished.
Shabul’s work permit was cancelled immediately, and with relations no long amicable between employer and employee, he had little choice but to move out of his accommodation. Feeling lost, he turned to a friend, who at first offered to share his bed and quickly found him a lawyer to handle his case. Over the past few weeks, Shabul’s “dear friend”, as he affectionately calls him, has found him a bed of his own, even paying the rent for him despite the fact that he’s also been unemployed for three months due to injury. Shabul explains that if it weren’t for the help of this friend, and the strength of the migrant worker network in Singapore, he would be utterly lost and alone.
Shabul’s case illustrates the failure of the system to ensure support for injured migrant workers in Singapore. He did nothing but provide five years of dedicated service. In return, he was never once given a pay rise. He never asked for anything more than his basic salary to be paid on time. In fact, during the course of those five years Shabul was paid $62 per month less than the amount he was originally promised in his In-Principle Approval letter in 2009. He didn’t complain, he was just happy to have stable work and a place to live.
Five years of tireless hard work, and five years of accepting a lower wage than he was entitled to. Within five hours of suffering a workplace injury, Shabul had no home, no job, and no way of paying his medical bills. When he should have been able to rely on his employer to allow him a little time to recover, and to ensure his treatment was paid for, he instead had to turn to the kindness of a friend, whose situation was almost as dire as his own. Is this the appropriate human response to a hard worker’s loyalty?